Author: I’ll sue if publisher doesn’t retract my retraction

Journal of Homeland Security

An author is preparing to sue a publisher for retracting his paper.

John Bishop, the CEO of an independent media company called Crocels, argues that by taking down his paper, De Gruyter is breaching a contract — their agreement to publish his work.

Perhaps appropriately, the paper suggests ways to combat negative online comments — including litigation.

Bishop told us he learned that his paper was pulled when he was alerted to the brief retraction notice, published in April. The notice, published in the Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, says:

The journal re-reviewed the above-listed article and concluded that the article does not fit with the journal. The article is retracted.

Transforming the UK Home Office into a Department for Homeland Security: Reflecting on an Interview with a Litigant Defending Against Online Retaliatory Feedback in the US” has not been cited since it was published in 2014, according to Thomson Reuters Web of Science.

Bishop — the only author on the paper — told us that the journal did not give him an explanation as to why his paper is no longer up to snuff, and in what way it “does not fit” with the journal. He said:

Crocels is currently in the process of taking steps to avoid taking legal action against De Gruyter.

We don’t know the reason why they retracted other than they said it no longer meets their criteria. The reason is not important from my point of view as the In House Counsel of Crocels.

We have told them that if they do not remove the retraction and restore the original paper that we will sue them for breach of contract for ceasing publication of the original paper and passing off and trademark infringement for publishing the “retraction” article in my name without my consent.

Unfortunately, we can’t offer any explanation for why the paper “does not fit with the journal,” as Alex Greene, a Senior Editorial Director at De Gruyter, declined to comment:

Per communication from Dr. Bishop, we expect the Retraction to be litigated and therefore will not have any out of court comments.

We asked Bishop why he considers the retraction a breach of contract. He explained:

They originally said in an email they would publish the article following the revisions to the proof being accepted. The fact that it was then published means they were satisfied it was of publishable quality.

There was offer – for them to publish my paper – acceptance – they would publish my paper – and consideration – I would give them the right to publish my content and they would give me the right to claim it as a publication.

By ceasing publication of my paper and retracting my right to claim it as a publication they are in breach of contract.

Bishop added:

The fact I have an email from them confirming they will publish is at minimum an oral contract. I have sued an organisation before on this basis, namely an agreement that was made that was binding even without terms and conditions agreed formally. I’m not allowed to say how successful I was!

Bishop isn’t the first author to take a publishing dispute to court — in another recent case, Mario Saad, a diabetes researcher, sued the American Diabetes Association over four expressions of concern, arguing they constituted defamation. A judge dismissed his suit last August, with the rationale that that the notices were part of “ongoing scientific discourse.” The papers were retracted in March.

Update, May 26th 2:50 PM

Bishop forwarded us an email from Greene, which outlined the reason for the retraction. Part of the email was redacted, due to the ongoing legal action. Here is an excerpt of Greene’s email to Bishop:

Our assessment of the pre-publication reviews and the review process is that these were flawed. Had the material been read critically, the article would not been accepted for publication.  Some of the problems with the article as we see it, are:

1.       The article is supposedly about transforming the UK Home Office into a department similar to the US Department  of Homeland Security, yet much of the article is about malicious online communication and online retaliatory feedback.  These are not part of the charter for the US Homeland Security, thus leading to point #2 below.
2.       It is expected that journal content is reliable, the results leading to the conclusions are reproducible, and the material is factually correct. The article includes a number of factual errors pertaining to the role of the US FBI, and the US Dept. of Homeland Security, and more. For example, the FBI and the US military are not part of the US Dept. of Homeland Security.
3.       The article appears to be at least 3 different partial articles: retaliatory feedback on the Internet; changing the scope (and authority) of the UK Home office; reassigning UK military people for civilian enforcement roles when they return home, and possibly more. These topics are not well connected and each could have been a separate article.

There is more that could be said about this article but we are not interested in pointing out every flaw or doing harm to you or anyone. The above, in our opinion, are more than sufficient reason for retracting the article.

Greene added in the email:

If, somehow, you succeed in court in compelling us to re-instate the article, we would do so and publish a full Publisher Note together with an annotated version of the article so our readers understand what the problems are with the article. We don’t think that will serve either of us well.

Bishop told us he will continue to negotiate with De Gruyter, and plans to take them to court if they still do not un-retract the article:

Any court order would now have to prevent De Gruyter from re-publishing the paper or a derivative in any other form and for the factual inaccuracies they have identified to be published solely as an erratum, as other publishers would do for a public policy paper of this kind.

We asked Greene to respond to the email Bishop forwarded us; he said:

As stated earlier, we will not have any out of court comments.

Hat tip: Rolf Degen

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14 thoughts on “Author: I’ll sue if publisher doesn’t retract my retraction”

  1. This makes DeGruyter look really bad. Why did the editors not discover that the paper “does not fit with the journal” before its was published? The opacity by Alex Greene is of concern.

    1. While DeGruyter’s behaviour is odd, as the editors of the journal they should have a right to retract whatever they like – it’s their journal. If their editorial behaviour is unfair then the proper corrective is not to sue them but to shame them publicly.

      1. Ahm…your comment is a little naive. Transfer of copyright and agreement to publish which is part of the acceptance notice email are in fact legally binding docments. DeGruyter have indeed broken a contract to publish, in my opinion. And further, by not communicating to the author, if that is true, they have shown markedly poor business sense.

        1. That depends if the publication agreement includes e.g. an “all rights reserved” clause, but even if a legal case could be made, I’m saying that, on academic freedom grounds, the law should be left out of this.

  2. I think the public nature of the suit may make the author look bad as well: will an editor consider publishing a paper by a litigious author in the future?

  3. If anyone would like to read the original article and form their own view of its academic merit, the author has published it on Scribd where it is easily found.

    1. A note on Scribd. It is my understanding, from experience, that when a full text is entered into, that a copy becomes transcribed to Scribd automatically (usually within 24 hours). I stand corrected, but that would indicate that it was not the author who posted it to Scribd, but I think this is worth confirming by others.

  4. Maybe that’s correct. In any event I was just pointing out that the unretracted version was still available if anyone was interested in reading it. It is oddly headed (faintly) ‘Retraction of’ and has new page numbering which conflicts with the numbering in the actual vol 13(1).

  5. Actually this is really odd. The Scribd offering gives a citation in the accompanying commentary of (2016) 13(1) 1 – 21. Volume 13(1) on the De Gruyter website has a retraction notice at vol 13(1) page 1 but continues at page 3 with a totally different article which extends beyond page 21. I can only conclude that the Scribd version is what volume 13(1) would have looked like if the article in question had been reproduced in full by De Gruyter. But the citation appears to be fabricated in terms of its page numbering and the reproduction of the article in full. Yet the formatting looks like the journal itself. I cannot imagine the author would invent a citation that is so easily falsified. I wonder what’s going on here. Does Mr Bishop or De Gruyter have any comment to make that could remedy my confusion?

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